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THE COMRADES MARATHON, SOUTH AFRICA
86.83km of road. 86.83km of racing. That’s what this year’s ‘Up’ edition of the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon, Comrades brought us. What a race. From the off.
29k in at Winston Park , 2018s 1-2 Ann Ashworth and Gerda Steyn were taking it out at a good pace and were neck and neck.
1 minute 35 behind them was an athlete that we hadn’t previewed here on the WRR. That athlete was Alexandra Morozova of Russia. Why didn’t we preview her when she placed 3rd in 2018 and 2nd in 2017? Well, in a roller-coaster ride of what I would argue was incompetence, Athletics South Africa (ASA) informed 69 Athletes on Friday morning that they were not allowed to compete in the race due the the IAAF suspension of the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) in relation to allegations of doping. Morozova has already had a pretty rough ride of it having been denied payment of the 2017 winnings (weirdly not 2018 though) and has been suing the ASA. I’m not quite sure why she is brave enough to come back for more punishment but hey! TimesLive SA reports that ‘In a hastily prepared affidavit‚ [Morozova] said she had not been given reasons for the decision but she and her fellow countrymen had all properly registered for the race and had picked up their numbers’. After contact from Morozova’s Attorney the ASA backtracked at 4pm on the Friday before the race was to be run early Sunday morning. They clarified (as the IAAF had guided them) that Russian athletes were infact not banned. All of the athletes who wanted to run the race were amateurs and therefore not governed by RusAF and not affected by the ban.
The next bit
So, off went the starting gun, Ashworth and Steyn at the front, Morozova a bit behind, Camille Herron in 4th just 10s behind the Russian, then Dominika Stelmach another minute later with Irelands ultra-noob Caitriona Jennings and SA’s Charne Mosman in 7th and 5 mins off the lead at the 29k mark.
By 43k Steyn had pushed ahead running through the checkpoint in 3:02:03 (that’s 2:58 marathon pace or a projected finish time of 6:07). Ashworth had dropped off by two minutes and was being chased closely by Morozova. Next in line, well, that was Jennings who was going out like a woman on a mission. When she hit an uphill she;d look a little bit fatigued but then as soon as she hit the flat again her form returned and she was flying once more. Stelmach had moved into 5th and Herron dropped down to 6th
By the time we hit the next check point at 56k, Steyn was winding up the pace, going past Cato Ridge in 3:58:15 (2:56 marathon / 6:03 finish time) and with a huge gap of 4mins before….. JENNINGS! At this point I was starting to get rather excited about this 39 year old’s debut and was furiously hitting refresh both for that reason and because Camille Herron seemed to be having issues and I was desperately hoping it wasn’t true. Last year’s winner Ashworth was now back in third and Morozova in fourth.
At 67k Steyn was still widening the gap and Jennins who was 8 mins behind was being chased down by Morozova who had overtaken Ashworth. Alas, 35k from the end Herron had indeed needed to pull out after having hamstring issues from very early on in the race (someone on twitter commented that she looked like she had an injury at the start).
The final checkpoint
Polly Shortts and the 79k checkpoint came at the 5:27:50 mark for Steyn who had now increased her speed again (2:54 marathon pace) and was looking like she was not only going to obliterate the 6:09:24 ‘up’ record but also come in under 6 hours. Jennings was still hanging on to third but Morozova was closing fast, though neither looked to be troubled by Ashworth in 4th and a full 7 mins off the lead. With me refreshing phone refreshing as fast as… well, Gerda Steyn, I was gutted to see the numbers hit for 2nd 3rd into Polly Shortts and the news that Morozova has managed to catch and overtake my local-ish contender. Hats off to the Russian who had clearly judged her race perfectly (well, not perfectly enough to win, but y’know).
A triumphant finish
Only 14mins after the second place had passed the final checkpoint Gerda Steyn, last year’s runner up crossed the finish line in a magnificent 5:58:53 . What a masterclass.
Morozova extended her lead and finished in second place, nearly seven minutes ahead of Jennings. I can’t imagine how you can deal with all that politics and still run such a calm race. And, while she might not have been able to hold on to second Ireland (and team Nedbank) clearly has a lot to be proud of from their 39 year old’s first ultra outing and third place. I’m excited to see what the future holds for her.
Gerda will win R500 000.00 (winner) + R200,000 (1st SA citizen) + R500,000 (breaking Elena Nurgalieva’s ‘up’ record 6:09:24 from 2006) = R1,200,000 (around £64,000)
Ann Ashworth comments on her instagram that it’s been a tough year. It’s easy to think that leaving your job to be a full time athlete is easy but time and time again I read how difficult people find it. So, keep on trucking Ann!
By the way, Cajsa Berg and Devon Yanko didn’t start the race. GB’s Samantha Amend and Chrissie Wellington ran strong races finishing in 7:14:44 and 7:49:30 and Carla Molinaro or Clapham Chasers finished in 7:51:12, which is pretty impressive given that she jokingly says ‘I conducted an experiment to see if I could complete @comradesmarathon after having a stress fracture and doing pretty much just cross training, 170km running in 3 months and my longest run being 15km. Turns out you can but it’s going to be an emotional and physical battle!’
Gerda Steyn, RSA 5:58:53 instagram.com/gerdarun/?
Alexandra Morozova, RUS 6:17:40 instagram.com/alexandra_morozova_run/
Caitriona Jennings, IRL 6:24:12 twitter.com/cjennings1x
Ann Ashworth, RSA 6:27:15 instagram.com/ann.ashworth
Dominika Stelmach, POL 6:34:58 instagram.com/dominika_stelmach_runner
Jenna Challenor, RSA 6:35:18 instagram.com/jennachallie1/
Aigul Mingazova, RUS 6:43:56 instagram.com/aigul_mingazova_/
Charne Bosman, RSA 6:49:39 instagram.com/charne.bosman/?
Catrin Jones, CAN 6:52:44
Mary Khourie, RSA 6:55:27
THE BLAYDON RACE (5.4 miles)
This length of race isn’t our normal territory here, but when GB Olympian and 50k team member gets so emotional about a race, it gets us excited too. Dixon won her 3rd Blaydon Race in a row and was clearly delighted. Oh and there’s a song about it too…. only in England?! (check the song out here)
24 years ago I ran my 1st @Blaydonrace & it stole a part of my ❤ In 2015, after 15 attempts over 20 years I finally won it. Last night I added my name to the list of 3 times winners. It was hard & it hurt but it meant a LOT!! #NotFinishedYet#LifeInTheOldDogYet#KeepShowingUp pic.twitter.com/iNPgc6Gf0B— Aly Dixon (@alydixon262) June 10, 2019
ROCK' ‘N’ ROLL SEATTLE MARATHON & HALF
IN OTHER NEWS
It seems wrong to have this as ‘other news. There can be no denying that Gabe Grunewald has had a massive impact on the running world. If you don’t know her story of fighting a rare form of cancer, setting up a foundation and now, sadly, how she has now come to the end of that fight, then I can only encourage you to go a read up and be inspired both by her and by the love which her husband Justin has for her.
The IAAF has re-branded itself to become World Athletics. The change will start to roll out after the World Champs in Doha in 2019. Maybe they can get some other changes happening too…
UKA 2020 OLYMPICS SELECTION POLICES
I haven’t had chance to read and digest yet but you can check them out here.
Races coming up this weekend..
PKO Wroclaw Night Half Marathon
Kigali International Peace Marathon
Phnom Penh International Half Marathon
Goodlife Rottnest Running Festival, AUS
Mozart Marathon, Salzburg
Further ahead… Gold Coast Marathon on 7th July